Amid growing speculation about a Trump administration’s intentions regarding the Iran nuclear deal, a new poll has found that nearly two-thirds of the U.S. public opposes withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated 18 months ago between Iran and the P5+1.
The poll, part of a much larger survey by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) about public attitudes about the U.S. role in world affairs, was released Thursday to foster better informed debate about the issue in advance of Trump’s inauguration. It included 2,980 respondents and was conducted December 22-28.
“Though President-elect Trump campaigned on ripping up the deal and seeking to negotiate a better one, the majority of Americans would rather continue with the deal as long as Iran continues to comply with its terms,” said PPC’s director, veteran foreign-policy pollster Steven Kull.
Reaction split along predictably partisan lines. Nearly nine out of ten Democrats (86%) favored continuing the deal so long as Iran complies with it, while 40% of Republicans agreed with that position. Among self-described independents, 58% said the U.S. should stick with the deal.
The poll was released just a day after 37 leading U.S. scientists—including Nobel laureates, nuclear experts, and former White House science advisers—sent an open letter to Trump in support of the deal. The deal provided a “strong bulwark against an Iranian nuclear-weapons program” and a “critical U.S. strategic asset,” the scientists wrote.
It remains very unclear what Trump will do. He has often referred to the JCPOA as “disastrous.” Last March, he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that his “number one priority is to dismantle [it].” In the same speech, however, he declared that, as president, he will ensure that the deal is “enforce[d] like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before…” At still other times, he has said the agreement should be renegotiated.
Although generally quite hawkish toward Iran, top appointments to his administration so far have been divided on the JCPOA. Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), is strongly opposed to it, while his nominee for secretary of state, Gen. James Mattis (ret.), believes the deal is flawed but worth sustaining. A U.S. withdrawal or reimposition of sanctions, he warned last spring, would prove largely ineffective or even counter-productive because the other parties in the P5+1 (Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) were highly unlikely to go along.
Although the administration may itself not take any specific action – at least, not immediately – Republicans and a handful of Democrats in Congress are expected to push legislation in the coming weeks that would, for example, bar the transfer of Boeing commercial aircraft to Iran, tax or otherwise sanction domestic and foreign companies that do business with Tehran, and/or impose new sanctions on Iran for its alleged support of terrorism or human rights abuses. Iran and other P5+1 partners could interpret these efforts as violations of the deal’s terms.
As with other PPC polls, the new survey provided respondents with background and basic information about the JCPOA and its implementation. They were then asked to evaluate arguments for and against withdrawing from the deal and seeking to renegotiate it (“very” or “somewhat convincing,” or “very” or “somewhat unconvincing”). Overall, 52% of respondents found the arguments in favor of withdrawal and renegotiation either somewhat (39%) or very (24.1%) “convincing,” while 63% found the arguments in favor of sustaining the agreement convincing (24.1%, very and 39% somewhat).
Bearing in mind the information they’d received and assessments they’d made up to that point, respondents were then asked how likely they believed it would be that other UN members would also agree to withdraw from the deal and seek its renegotiation. Overall, a 58% majority said that they believed other UN members would indeed follow the U.S.
However, when then asked how likely they believed it would be that Iran would agree to renegotiate the deal and make additional concessions, nearly 70% (68.8%) of respondents said that such a new agreement was either “not very” or “not at all” likely.
In light of all of the above, respondents were asked as a final question whether they thought the U.S. should withdraw from and renegotiate the deal or “continue with the deal as long as Iran complies with the terms.”
Overall, 63.7% of respondents—including 40.4% of Republicans—opted to continue the deal.